Interview: Scott Henderson

Martin Schmidt: When and where were you born?

Scott Henderson: In West Palm Beach Florida on August 26th, 1954.

Martin Schmidt: When did you start playing?

Scott Henderson: When I was really young, 10 or 11, something like that.

Martin Schmidt: Which bands did you listen to as a child and teenager?

Scott Henderson: I listened to most of the Sixties guitar bands. That¥s pretty much how I started playing guitar, listening to Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Santana. Johnny Winter, Hendrix, you know, the Sixties guys.

Martin Schmidt: Did you listen to the Beatles or the Rolling Stones?

Scott Henderson: Not so much. I was more into real guitar players, from the very beginning. If it didn¥t have cool guitar solos in it, I wasn¥t that interested. So I didn¥t really listen to the Beatles and The Stones very much, more guitar player music.

Martin Schmidt: Did you take lessons in the beginning?

Scott Henderson: No, though I had some friends that played better than me, they were always showing me stuff, but I never took formal lessons until much later.

Martin Schmidt: Where did you study music?

Scott Henderson: At the Florida Atlantic University in Florida. Around 1980 I moved to Los Angeles and went to GIT for a year.

Martin Schmidt: Did the time you spent at these schools have a great influence on your playing style?

Scott Henderson: I don¥t know if the school is that much responsible for it, or the music I was listening to, or all the stuff friends turned me on to. I never really heard jazz until I was in college. I was pretty old, when I went to college, because I skipped four years of school, because I was out on the road playing with bands. I was around 23 or 24 by then.

Martin Schmidt: Which kind of bands did you play with?

Scott Henderson: Pretty much rock and soul bands. I was in an all-black group for maybe three years, I was the only white kid in the band. We played James Brown, Kool & The Gang, just funk!

Martin Schmidt: No guitar solos?

Scott Henderson: There were some guitar solos, but I was mainly a rhythm player at that time.

Martin Schmidt: What did you learn at the schools you went to?

Scott Henderson: Mainly jazz improvisation and composition, that was what I was majoring in.

Martin Schmidt: Before that you were an ear player?

Scott Henderson: Yeah.

Martin Schmidt: What do you think are the most important things a young player has to learn?

Scott Henderson: I think the learning how to play by ear, developing your ear, is the most important thing. Learning off records is a super important thing, to transcribe good players and learn from that. I would say that¥s probably more important than going to school. Going to school is helpful to put what you learned into a vocabulary that¥s easily shared with other musicians. There¥s benefits to both ways, but if I had to choose one, I would say, learning by ear is more important than learning technically what you¥re doing.

Martin Schmidt: Practicing scales and stuff like that?

Scott Henderson: Yeah, that¥s great, too but you learn the same thing from records and even if you don¥t know what you¥re doing technically, you¥re still doing it! Most players that play really well, have done quite a bit of study by ear, transcribing solos from solos, learning from their favorite players, without the help of a teacher!

Martin Schmidt: Do you still practice a lot these days?

Scott Henderson: Not as much as I used to, but I still do.

Martin Schmidt: Do you really practice or just play?

Scott Henderson: I practice! I'm learning new ideas, trying to get new ideas into my playing.

Martin Schmidt: What does blues mean to you?

Scott Henderson: That¥s the music that I grew up with. For me, the ultimate form of expression is blues. The feeling of it, the style moves me more than most other music does, in more of an emotional type way, where jazz probably stimulates my thought processes more, it appeals to me on an intellectual level. Blues appeals to me more on a roots level, that¥s the music that I learned as a kid. You never really forget the music you learned how to play to! That¥s for sure my roots!

Martin Schmidt: When did you start listening to blues?

Scott Henderson: When I was a little kid, but I wouldn¥t even call these bands blues, they were more blues rock! What happened to me was exactly the same thing that happened to me in jazz. When I started listening to blues rock bands like Led Zeppelin or Deep Purple, I didn¥t know that they were second or third generation blues guys, I thought they started it! When friends told me, those guys were influenced by people much older, I started checking this out, I wanted to hear, where that music came from.

I started listening to Albert King, Muddy Waters, B.B. King, the guys that started that style. Same thing happened to me in jazz. When I got into jazz, I really was turned on to fusion. Billy Cobham¥s "Spectrum", John Mc Laughlin "Birds of Fire", Chick Corea "Light As A Feather", Weather Report. I didn¥t know at that time that those guys were also influenced by a way older generation of jazz musicians. When I discovered that, I started listening to straight ahead jazz, Miles Davis and John Coltrane kind of jazz. Just from being my age, I heard second generation music first and then I went back and discovered the older forms of jazz and blues. That was a fun experience! (Laughs)
Now I have a good realization of the history of the music that I¥m playing.

Martin Schmidt: Did you ever play in a real blues band?

Scott Henderson: Yes. It wasn¥t a band that toured, it was a band here in LA and we played on weekends. I played in blues bands in Florida when I was growing up. They played only blues. But when I got my first record deal, I was already playing jazz and fusion with Tribal Tech.

The records we were doing in the '80s and early '90s... it was strange that my blues thing just got left behind. I was still playing blues a lot, but we never really documented it with Tribal Tech. So I decided to do a blues album, because I never got to play blues on a record (laughs). That was "Dog Party".

Martin Schmidt: This record was the most traditional blues album you did.

Scott Henderson: Yes, that was a real traditional record, because I wanted it to be completely different from anything I¥ve done with Tribal Tech, a straight ahead blues record. I haven¥t really done that since, "Tore Down House" is a little bit more jazzy and the new one is kind of jazzy, whatever it is (laughs).

Martin Schmidt: Why didn¥t you continue the traditional direction?

Scott Henderson: After I did "Dog Party", I took a hard look at what I¥ve done and was thinking it wasn¥t any more really me than not playing blues with Tribal Tech. I had become this musician that is somewhere in the middle between blues and jazz. To me that¥s my little niche that I found for myself. The music that I write is bluesy jazz or jazzy blues or whatever it is. That¥s what I do now without making an effort not to play blues, as on some of the early Tribal Tech records or making an effort not to play jazz, as on "Dog Party".

Martin Schmidt: You just try to include all these different influences?

Scott Henderson: Yes, that feels more natural for me. Part of it is because of the writing. On "Dog Party" I was making a definite effort not to write any kind of jazzy stuff. When I sit down and write, it¥s real hard for me to exclude things, if I hear them. I just sit down and write, go: OK, this is what came out, this is what it is. I don¥t want to think about analyzing what I¥m doing, while I¥m doing it. I just let it come out and usually what comes out, is that kind of thing, like the new album.

Martin Schmidt: Why didn¥t you continue with Kirk Covington as a singer?

Scott Henderson: Kirk¥s voice was really good for "Dog Party", because it was a Texas style music and Kirk has a Texas twang in his voice. But the new music I was writing sounds more R&B, I wanted more black singers, because black singers have that certain thing white singers just can¥t do (laughs). Thelma and Wade are so good! Also I was really trying to make a great studio record. For a live a record, I would have included Kirk, because he sings with us live. But I wanted to find the best singers I could find and I¥m really a big Thelma fan!

Martin Schmidt: So Thelma Houston doesn¥t go on the road with you?

Scott Henderson: No (laughs). She only flies business class, we can¥t afford her, she¥s to pricey for us!

Martin Schmidt: Did you plan to release several blues albums or did it happen by accident?

Scott Henderson: It happened by accident. I just kept it going. It¥s another vehicle for writing, because Tribal Tech doesn¥t write anymore. We got into this thing on the last two albums, where we go to the studio and just jam! Then we compose over the jam later. I wanted to keep writing music as a composer. Now my solo albums feature my writing and playing, where as Tribal Tech is featuring a whole other thing, the jamming part, more eclectic part.

Martin Schmidt: Do you play any songs from other artists with your blues band?

Scott Henderson: We play "Fire" as an encore, the Hendrix tune.

Martin Schmidt: Where do you play with the band in the USA, in real blues clubs or anything else?

Scott Henderson: There aren¥t jazz and blues clubs in the USA like there used to be. Most clubs have a variety of stuff, so we play places where rock bands and jazz bands play.

Martin Schmidt: Which kind of people come to your concerts?

Scott Henderson: There¥s a pretty big mixture. I mainly attract guitar players and occasionally they bring their girlfriends (laughs).

Martin Schmidt: Are there a lot of real blues fans at your concerts?

Scott Henderson: Yes, there are. I wouldn¥t say so much blues fans, more blues rock. There is a whole group of people out there who really appreciate players like Michael Landau, myself, Lukather... Rock players that are more about tone and phrasing than they are about chops. Probably not the same people that go to see Steve Vai and Joe Satriani. Maybe they¥re older and more into tone than they are into speed. Not that I don¥t play fast sometimes, but the main emphasis in my music is about writing, tone and phrasing. People who dig that, come to my gigs.

Martin Schmidt: What do you think about blues purists that don¥t accept any new elements in the music?

Scott Henderson: They¥re the same as jazz purists, there are tons of them out there. I don¥t really hate them, I think they¥re missing a lot in music. That¥s just from my upbringing, I¥m listening to everything from Miles Davis to Pantera, I like a lot of different types of music. It¥s really hard for me to relate to somebody, who only listens to one little thing. It¥s sort of me relating to a Ku Klux Klan guy, who only likes white people, it doesn¥t make any sense to me. But I don¥t hate anybody for being that way, most of the time I feel sorry for them, because they¥re missing out on a lot of really cool stuff. You have to appreciate the good things in all kinds of music. Maybe they heard some really bad blues rock music, some of it is terrible, but there are guys out there who play the hell out of blues in a more eclectic way. Some blues purists don¥t even like Stevie Ray Vaughan. We all know he played his ass off. Just because he chose to turn up and sound more like Hendrix, he turned blues purists off. It¥s too bad...

Martin Schmidt: Bad luck for them.

Scott Henderson: Yeah, bad luck for them.

Martin Schmidt: Which current blues players do you like?

Scott Henderson: I¥m still listening to the same guys I listened to back then. Albert King is probably my favorite blues player. But I really dig the younger guys, too - when I say younger, I mean people my age - people like SRV, Michael Landau is a great blues player, Chris Duarte.

Martin Schmidt: What do you think of young blues players like Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Johnny Lang?

Scott Henderson: I think they probably will be really good. Honestly I think a little bit too much is made out of them in the press, because there are a lot of guys that age that actually sound that good. But I still think they¥re doing a great thing in keeping interest in the blues and as they grow as a musician, they will be great. I don¥t think they¥re great now.

Martin Schmidt: You think it¥s more of a marketing thing?

Scott Henderson: Yes, but it¥s cool, because they turn a lot of people on to blues from their generation and I think that¥s great!

Martin Schmidt: Do you like Southern rock stuff?

Scott Henderson: I used to really love the Allman Brothers. I haven¥t really listened to so much of it lately, but every once in a while, I go back and listen to an Allman Brothers tune. I played in many bands in South Florida to support myself, playing clubs and we used to play Lynyrd Skynyrd and Allman Brothers stuff a lot. I used to really dig that music a lot!

Martin Schmidt: Do you know Gov¥t Mule?

Scott Henderson: Sure! That¥s Warren Haynes, great player. I also like the slide player from the ABB, Derek Trucks. Really good slide player. There are some young guys doing some nice stuff. Jimmy Herring is also really good. He was one of my students at GIT.

Martin Schmidt: Do you play slide guitar yourself?

Scott Henderson: I do, but I¥m terrible (laughs). I play a little slide on the new album, just real simple stuff. I can do it, but it¥s not something I do very much. All my guitars are set up with low action. I use my vibrato bar a lot to emulate that sound. That sort of has become my trademark sound, these little slurs and bends with the vibrato bar.

Martin Schmidt: But you don¥t play slide guitar live?

Scott Henderson: No. I would be (laughs) petrified!

Martin Schmidt: Can you make a comfortable living playing live and selling records or do you do anything else?

Scott Henderson: Yeah, I¥m doing OK. I don¥t think I could live off touring in the States, because the States is about the lowest paying gig, but we do really well in Europe, japan and South America. We¥re supposed to go to Russia this year. Once you get out of the States, the money gets pretty good. I don¥t think anybody is getting rich off playing progressive blues or jazz (laughs), but that¥s OK, making a comfortable living, having fun.

Martin Schmidt: Do you still teach?

Scott Henderson: Yeah, I¥m teaching at GIT, when I¥m in town, two days a week.

Martin Schmidt: Do you do studio work?

Scott Henderson: Once in a great while. I¥m really busy doing my own music, so I¥m not really a session guy, though I do stuff rarely, when people ask me and I like the music.

Martin Schmidt: But you don¥t record any jingles for radio or TV?

Scott Henderson: No, I don¥t do that. There¥s a real strong clique of people in LA, who do that and it¥s very hard to break into that thing and once you broken into it, that¥s what you¥re known for doing. You can¥t really leave town that much, because you¥re expecting calls for work. I¥m really known as a touring musician, so studio work is kinda out for me.

Martin Schmidt: How is the situation for musicians in the USA in general? Is it hard to make a living?

Scott Henderson: Well, if you don¥t play really mainstream music, it¥s hard. If you¥re in a famous rock band, touring, I¥m sure the money gets much better, but to do the kind of music I do, where you draw only 100 or 200 people to the gigs, when you play in town, you figure you make 2000 bucks a gig. There¥s not that many people here, who appreciate it, like they do in Europe.

It¥s funny, not funny but kinda truthful, when the old blues players, like Muddy Waters, were trying to make a living in the USA, people here wouldn¥t really listen to them, but their records were selling big in Europe. So it hasn¥t really changed, America doesn¥t seem to support their own musicians, unless they¥re playing real popular pop or rock.

Martin Schmidt: Is it difficult to find jobs, where you teach at schools or play in cover bands?

Scott Henderson: No, not really. No more than anywhere else. There¥s plenty of work for people, who want to play covers, but most people want to do their own records. Most people who are really good players, their goals are the same all the way around, they want to write their own music, do their own albums, go out and play their own music in front of people and that¥s when the money goes down (laughs). I get a lot more money as a sideman, playing with other people than I do as a bandleader. But that¥s OK, I really enjoy, what I do. I¥m not complaining at al about it, I¥m comfortable and I¥m happy, I feel like I¥m lucky that I¥m able to do this.

Martin Schmidt: But it¥s difficult to find an audience for your own music and make money with it?

Scott Henderson: Sure, in the States! Especially if the music is somewhat eclectic. The main thing over here is, we have big media problems. People that do weirder kind of music, jazz, fusion or blues, there is not a big radio market for it, like there is in other countries. As a result of that, people don¥t get to hear the music and they don¥t show up at the gigs. And that does make me mad. We¥ve been trying to change that in the USA ever since I was a little kid and it just doesn¥t ever happen. We get played on college radio stations only. And that makes it really hard, because if people don¥t hear the stuff on the radio, they ¥re not gonna buy it, unless a friend turns them on to it. I can¥t imagine someone driving in their car, turning on the radio and hearing one of my songs. This wouldn¥t happen. That makes me mad, because I¥m working as hard as anybody else on my music and I feel I ought to have the opportunity to be heard by the public.

Many people come to our shows, who¥ve never heard of it, but someone else brought them there and they totally dig it. Those are the same people, who might be listening to the radio in their car, hear a song and go: Wow, I really like this, I wanna go out and buy this record, but I don¥t get the privilege of that happening for me, all because of the stupid American culture and that makes me mad.

It¥s nearly the same in Germany. You have small radio stations, who play whatever they like and then there are the bigger radio stations, who play Britney Spears or "Hotel California" five times a day. I mean, "Hotel California" is not a bad song, but...

Martin Schmidt: Yeah, that¥s sad. There¥s very little room for anybody else. Are you happy with your sound these days?

Scott Henderson: Yeah. I worked real hard on it and I¥m pretty happy with the gear that I¥m using now. I¥m always checking new stuff out, but I¥m pretty happy with what I¥ve got now.

Martin Schmidt: In an interview a few years ago, I read that you were very unhappy with the sound you recorded.

Scott Henderson: Yeah, I definetely made some mistakes, that¥s for sure. I think, as I¥ve grown as a musician, my ear has probably grown, too. I know what sounds good, something I maybe didn¥t know before. Nowadays, my tone is pretty much what I want.

Martin Schmidt: Why is tone so important for you?

Scott Henderson: It just inspires me to play. I¥ve always been a tone type of musician, I play for sounds. I think the less notes you play, the more you want each note to sound good. It¥s a real challenge to get a great sound out of an electric guitar.

Martin Schmidt: So you¥re not inspired when you play through a bad amplifier?

Scott Henderson: No, not so much. It¥s very hard for me to play, when I don¥t dig the tone.

Martin Schmidt: What do you think of the sound a lot of fusion players prefer, clean chorus sound and very harsh distortion?

Scott Henderson: I¥m not really into that. I¥m into tube amps and vintage gear, I like pedals, just the regular vintage stuff. I think that¥s the stuff that sounds the best.

Martin Schmidt: You prefer vintage amps and guitars?

Scott Henderson: Yes. The amps that I used on the new album were a '64 Fender Bandmaster and a '68 Plexi Marshall and then my Suhr guitars, who are basically made to sound like the old Strats. I¥m really into that tube thing...

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Martin Schmidt: Do you use old guitars?

Scott Henderson: No, not really. I can¥t play the old Fenders, because the frets are too small and I don¥t like the rounded neck. I¥ve always been a Gibson neck guy, but I like the sound of Fender guitars. So my guitars, the Suhr guitars, the neck is more like a Gibson, but the Pickups and the guitar are like a Fender. So it¥s like having an old Fender guitar that¥s easy to play. They¥re really great guitars. I think he¥s the best guitar maker in the world.

Martin Schmidt: Do you ever use old amps on tour or live?

Scott Henderson: No, not live, because I would have to bring too many things. My old amps don¥t have effect loops, so they don¥t have reverb. If I wanted to satellite the reverb, I would have to bring other power amps and I would have to haul too much gear to the gig. So what I use live is my Custom Audio OD 100 head. It ¥s a really nice amp. Like a Fender in channell one and like a Marshall in channell two. To tell you the truth, I like my old amps a little better, but for live it¥s great.

Martin Schmidt: Do you only use Suhr guitars or do you play anything else?

Scott Henderson: On the new album I played a Les Paul, I used some Danelectro guitars, a baritone and a twelve string.

Martin Schmidt: Which effects do you use?

Scott Henderson: Mostly pedals. I have lot of different distortion pedals. I have the new modded tube Screamer, which is the best Tube Screamer I ever heard. It¥s called the Silver mod, it¥s done by Analog Mike. That¥s a great sounding Tube Screamer. Sometimes I use that with a Voodoo one pedal that¥s made by Roger Mayer. I run the Tube Screamer into the Voodoo and that¥s my main pedal distortion sound, these two pedals together. I also have a OD Overdrive Preamp 250, the same pedal Yngwie uses and those pedals sound great with Marshalls. I have a Boss DS 1, also modded by Mike, that also sounds good with a Marshall, but it sounds good with the Fender, too.

Martin Schmidt: Do you use any rack stuff?

Scott Henderson: Not so much. The only rackmounted effect I use is my SE 70, that I use live. It gives me reverb and delay and some other effects. But I don¥t have any rackmounted effects. The reason I don¥t use any rackmounted effects is now I have computer plug ins who do the same thing. I use the Wave computer plug ins, the Digital Performer, and they got really great compressors and delay, otherworldly kind of sounds. Some people have asked me about some really strange sounds on the new album, which pedal does these sounds and it¥s not a pedal, it¥s a computer plug in.

Martin Schmidt: But for reverb or delay you never use analog pedals?

Scott Henderson: No. Either my rackmounted stuff or for the mix of the new album, we used Michael Landau's stuff. He has all the nice reverbs, like the Lexicon Reverb.

Martin Schmidt: Did you ever use a Fender Tube Reverb?

Scott Henderson: No. I never really got so much into those, because you have to plug it into the front of the amp and with a sound as distorted as mine, that¥s not a good way to do it.

Martin Schmidt: Do you like modelling amps like the POD or the Cyber Twin?

Scott Henderson: I have a POD and I use it for writing. I¥ve messed around with it a lot and I got some pretty decent sounds out of it, but when you compare it to a miked tube amp, it doesn¥t really hold up. I use it when I¥m composing, just so I don¥t have to burn out the tubes in my amp, but I never actually recorded one.

Martin Schmidt: Would you use one live?

Scott Henderson: Probably not. I don¥t think they¥re quite there with that modelling stuff. There¥s something about the sound a microphone gets from the air that the speaker is moving that¥s very, very hard to reproduce and I don¥t think they¥re close to that. Maybe one day they will, they¥re smart guys, I think my POD is amazing, but they¥re thin compared to a miked amplifier.

Martin Schmidt: Do you think analog recording is better than digital?

Scott Henderson: No, actually I don¥t. I¥ve done quite a bit of both. I compare the albums and A/B the sound and I don¥t hear that much of a difference. The Victor Wooten/ Steve Smith albums I did are all done on tape and my last three records, "Tore Down House", "Rocket Science" and "Well To The Bone", are all done on a computer. I think they sound just as good as the tape albums, I don¥t really hear a difference. One thing I like is to mix to tape. Most mastering studios prefer to get a master on a real tape than they do a DAT. "Rocket Science" was done on a 24 bit DAT and that sounds great, but I don¥t think the 16 bit DAT are as good.

Martin Schmidt: Do you think equipment is as important as a player's personality to get a certain sound?

Scott Henderson: Well, I think equipment is part of the personality, because to develop a personality with your tone, it involves not just the fingers. The fingers are at least 70%, but the other 30% is definely your gear. No matter how great your fingers are, if you play through bad gear, it¥s not gonna sound like one. A lot of it is experimenting with pedals and amps and finding out what¥s the best sound for you. It¥s all part of it. It¥s a never ending discovery process. No matter how good you think you sound, sooner or later you play through something that makes you sound better (laughs).

Martin Schmidt: And it¥s fun to try new stuff...

Scott Henderson: Yes, I'm a gearhead. I love trying new stuff, I¥m into it. For some people it¥s more a pain in the ass, but for me it¥s fun, I enjoy it.

Martin Schmidt: You couldn¥t go on stage with a Fender Twin and an archtopp guitar?

Scott Henderson: I mean, I could. I have done it in the past, when I had to, you make the best out of it, but it certainly isn¥t so much fun as playing through stuff that really sounds great. A lot of guitar players I know tour around the world and rent amps where ever they go, they seem to be able to do it OK. But for me, I guess I¥m a litle more picky, I¥m used to my sound and I know that I play my best, when I have my sound, so I go for that.

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Scott Henderson, once voted Guitar Player Of The Year by Guitar Player Magazine, continues to tour and release fusion and blues recordings. He recently released his third blues-based CD, entitled "Well To The Bone", runs the gamut from slinky Texas blues to harmonically adventurous forays into uncharted musical terrain.

Martin Schmidt recently caught up with Scott and captured the following detailed, musical conversation.